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Outer Burial Containers: Making Informed Decisions

If you are planning your own or a loved one’s burial in a cemetery or want to have ashes placed in a container underground there, you may be asked to buy an outer burial container, a vault, grave liner or grave box.

Requirements and Options for Outer Burial Containers

If you are planning your own or a loved one’s burial in a cemetery or want to have ashes placed in a container underground there, you may be asked to buy an outer burial container, sometimes called a vault, grave liner or grave box. 

While it is not legally required by state or federal law and may add an extra charge, some cemeteries require it because it helps keep the buried box from sinking down awkwardly over time and will better preserve a uniform, attractive appearance on the grounds that is easier for landscapers.

What Consumers Should Know

According to the Federal Trade Commission, a funeral home must show you a list of prices and descriptions before you select a burial container. Consumers should be sure to check prices before purchasing and consider third-party options which may be less expensive, according to the FTC. 

There are slight differences between the types of grave liners with different price points.  

  1. A grave liner is made from reinforced concrete and should satisfy any cemetery requirement, according to the FTC. Grave liners only cover the top and sides of the casket.  
  2. A burial vault is more substantial and expensive than a liner. They are often made of concrete or metal. Concrete is usually the most expensive option. Steel is the least expensive of the metal options. 
  3. An air-sealed casket uses air pressure to seal the container.
  4. Even those who choose cremation may need an urn vault, but the cost should be less as the space needed is far smaller than for a casket. 

It’s important to note that liners are there to preserve the look of the cemetery, not to delay or prevent the decay of your loved one. As the FTC explains, “Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains. It is illegal for funeral providers to claim that a vault will keep water, dirt, or other debris from penetrating into the casket if that's not true.” 

Peace of Mind 

On the other hand, your geography and region’s weather may play a role in your decision. According to planning site, Cake, some families gain peace of mind by purchasing a burial container, especially if they live in a coastal area or a place that experiences extreme weather. For those people, knowing they have another layer of protection from the elements is comforting.

Even those who choose cremation may need an urn vault if they want to inter the remains underground at a cemetery. Since the space needed is much smaller, the cost should be more affordable than a casket burial container. 

Your Range of Choices 

Some consumers may opt to find what they need from a third-party retailer if there is a requirement by their chosen cemetery. Others may look into a “green” burial where no vault or liner is required. For those who choose cremation, they may opt for a scattering above ground in a place of their choice.

According to the Green Burial Council, neither a vault or liner should be used in a green burial because “both impede natural decomposition and introduce non-biodegradable materials into the earth.” 

Whichever option you choose, remember you have a legal right to see the prices before making a choice. As always, advance planning lets you make the decision that best fits your values without the pressure of your pick being time-sensitive.

To learn the difference between fact and fiction regarding burials, take a look at our article: Debunking Burial Myths.